Monday, August 30, 2004


The word “judgement” itself has slid down the semantic scale towards “judgementalism”. We don’t like the caricature, so we reject the reality, losing the plot, and the party, along with it. We alter our texts and adjust our lectionaries. We tiptoe around lest we upset someone by saying something definite that they might disagree with. Is it a coincidence that that last sentence describes the Dome as well as the mainstream Church — and what happened when the two got uneasily together?

At the heart of it is the lie that saps the moral and theological energy of the Church, the pseudo-gospel from which judgement has been carefully excluded. “God accepts us as we are.” Yes, but God’s acceptance does not leave us where we are. I heard the other day of a church in America (soft target, I know, but that’s where it was) which, reading the story of the woman caught in adultery, omitted the clause “and sin no more” from Jesus’s words of forgiveness. There is all the difference in the world between acceptance and forgiveness.

The former means learning to embrace a prejudice-free tolerance-for-all; the latter means recognising and confronting evil, dealing with it, and making a fresh start.

N.T. Wright, "The Grinch Who Stole Advent," in The Church Times

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

My +3 Apostolic Succession beats your Spell of Arius

I'm going to write for the next couple of weeks on my present musings on orthodoxy and ordained ministry.

In the first couple of centuries after Pentecost, one of the Church's primary concerns (aside from local or generalized persecution by the Empire) was defining and guarding orthodoxy from various streams of false teaching, especially Gnosticism. You can see early attempts in the NT Canon, as John the Elder warns that anyone who doesn't teach that Jesus had a real body is antichrist (2 John 1:7).

Try not to read our post-modern "repression fables" back into that time and place. Gnostics and Arians and various hetrodox Christians may have meant well, but bad theology is bad for you. The early Christians ultimately decided that a Christ who did not come in the flesh cannot save, nor can a Christ who is not God. (The arguments and their refutations are quite a bit more complicated than that, so forgive my oversimplification.) I don't think the orthodox bishops were simply well-appointed, well-educated men who were trying to get it over on their politically weaker colleagues.

The scriptures themselves were not as much help in combating heresy as one would like to think. It was clear to Christians of that time, even as today that one can pull out random bits of the Bible and insist that it evidences any personal interpretation presented. From what I've read, here are a couple of solutions put forth at the time.

Apostolic Succession. Simply put, it's a second century teaching (by Irenaeus of Lyons, c.180) that maintains that the only valid bishops of Christ's Church are the ones who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by apostles. This is important as the episcopate developed as a teaching office. You could trust their teaching to be truth and apostolic because they were trained by people who were trained by the apostles, who were with Jesus themselves.

I'm not sure if I can see this as a helpful or meaningful authority structure in this time and place.

First, what could be a reasonable idea during the first few generations after the Resurrection of Jesus is stretched a bit thin now. Just because all the right people laid hands on other people is no guarantee that contemporary bishops have been discipled or trained in a Christianity the apostles themselves would honor or even recognize. Extreme example: Anglicans claim the succession, but bishops such as Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania is widely quoted as arguing that Jesus himself was a forgiven sinner. The Marian dogmas of the Church of Rome certainly are no teachings that the apostles or the next several generations would have affirmed.

A lack of discipleship and teaching in the apostolic vein as evidenced by heretical teachers are a pretty big strike, to my thinking.

Second, I can think of a number of communities that meet other standards of apostolicity, catholicity and missional living that don't have the benefit of bishops on the apostolic succession. Does that make their presbyters second-rate? I don't think so. I'm no Donatist, but what's the point of being ordained by a bishop that doesn't believe in Jesus in any meaningful way compared to being appointed by one's own local community?

Apostolic succession wasn't a teaching of the apostles, either. It was a helpful teaching of the Church in a particular time and place. If it no long does what it was intended to do, and is not a gospel imperative, what's the point?

Further, do bishops create Christians or do Christians create bishops? Yeah, that's a rhetorical question...

More to follow...

From the Fathers

Random Thought
If the Word's divine actions had not been performed through the body, man would not have been deified; and if the properties of the flesh had not been attributed to the Word, man would not have been liberated from them at all.

Athanasius, Against the Arians III, 33.
In Documents in Early Christian Thought, Eds. Wiles & Santer

Monday, August 02, 2004

When is a Church No Longer a Church?

Uh, when this happens, for starters:

In keeping with the understanding that the Holy Spirit moves people in different ways and at varying speeds, St. Christopher’s by-the-Sea is one of several Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Southeast Florida that offers Baptism “with no strings attached.”

Anyone who seeks to be baptized, or to have a child baptized, is welcome without regard to their church membership, their faith tradition or other factors. Our parish baptized 22 new Christians during 2002, a new record and a strong response to our first year of "open baptism."
Discipleship on one's own terms is no discipleship at all.

Do you know why they're doing this "open baptism" and "open communion" stuff? These particular Episcopalians (like many mainliners) do not understand the Church as God's new community. They see it as an organization that dispenses religious goods and services. Baptism is not the initiation into a new life in Christ marked by repentance, healing, transformation and a common life. It's a warm fuzzy. Eucharist is not a channel of healing, a re-committment of both Christ and those who make up his body. It's a warm fuzzy.

And if the complete content of the gospel is to be "open, welcoming and affirming" people, than we must share all of our religous goods and services with everyone, and be no respectors of persons. This, for them, is hospitality, because they have no concept of the common life. They can give bread and wine to folks who sin against the community without repentance, but will they even invite people outside of their normal, comfortable social circles to dinner?

They have instead sought to remove theological significance from the cultic meal (or at least re-write it) instead of developing an ethos for a common life. Eucharist is for those who are part of the community, who are committed to Jesus -- and the Church -- in repentance and faith. Those who are not, are to be shown hospitality. But when all you have is the cultic practice, and not the life it's supposed to grow out of or give impetus to, you're left with stuff like this.

The Pontificator makes some great points on his blog:
Oh how I wish I could in conscience practice “open baptism”!

End of rant. :0)